DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Maurice Edu and Rangers matched wits with Manchester United for a hard-earned point in Old Trafford while Jermaine Jones and ten-man Schalke were left empty-handed in Lyon as the Champions League group stage kicked off.
Olympique Lyonnais 1 - 0 FC Schalke 04
Jermaine Jones started and went 70 minutes in Schalke's midfield, however an early goal by Lyon's Michel Bastos and first-half sending off of central defender Benedikt Höwedes saw the Königsblauen leave Lyon's Stade de Gerland empty-handed.
To their credit, Schalke's makeshift back line held their hosts scoreless for the final 50-plus minutes even with numbers against them, but were simply powerless to recover from the first-half setbacks.
The game started out with promise for Felix Magath's men as Jones headed a dangerous free kick into the area from Ivan Rakitic just left of the goalpost in the first minute, then Jefferson Farfan forced Lyon keeper Hugo Lloris into a diving save ten minutes later.
The hosts took advantage of Schalke's Achilles heel of poor defending to take the lead in the 20th minute, when Christoph Moritz failed miserably to head the ball clear just outside the upper left corner of the area, instead providing Michel Bastos with an unintentionally brilliant pass towards goal.
With only onrushing Schalke keeper Manuel Neuer to beat, the Brazilian international flipped a cheeky chip over the German national team starter and towards goal, where Höwedes could only help the ball inevitably cross the line with his sliding attempt to divert it from its path.
Höwedes' evening took an arguably unfair turn for the worse with seven minutes left in the half, when the referee deemed his reckless high challenge on Jimmy Briand worthy of a red card, leaving Schalke to navigate the final 53 minutes short one player.
Lacking the ability to get forward with their disadvantage, the Königsblauen could only put up a valiant effort in the second half to keep their hosts from increasing the lead, and could claim a moral victory - albeit a small one - to have prevented any further damage.
The loss leaves Schalke in third place of Group B, ahead of Hapoel Tel Aviv only on goal differential. They have two weeks until their next group-stage encounter with leaders Benfica, but first face a crucial league derby on Sunday afternoon against arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund which could see them either reclaim the faith of their fans or plunge deeper into crisis.
Manchester United 0 - 0 Rangers Glasgow
Maurice Edu went the distance in a defensively-packed Rangers lineup as the Glasgow team battened down the hatches and bamboozled a weakened Manchester United starting lineup for a scoreless draw in the Theatre of Dreams.
Whether the game will be viewed as a gross miscalculation by United coach Alex Ferguson for making ten changes to his squad that drew Everton over the weekend or a plan executed to formula by the resolute Gers squad put out by Walter Smith is of little consequence, as the Scottish visitors will undoubtedly feel as though they came away with the better result.
Smith's intent to simply put a stop to whatever his counterpart Ferguson put onto the field was clear from the opening moments, with the four-man midfield featuring Edu in the middle acting as the first line of defense in front of a North Korea-styled five-man backfield.
With no chance to even approach Allan McGregor's goal, Ferguson's squad was limited to shots from distance and calculated long passes into the box, which almost paid off in the 11th minute when Mexican starlet Javier "Chicharito" Hernández headed just wide left of goal on a long cross from the flank by Brazilian wingback Fabio.
The plan effectively took Wayne Rooney out of the picture, leaving midfielder Darren Gibson as the only Red Devil to create the only true moments of danger with a number of blasts from outside the penalty area that had the home crowd several times on the edge of their seats.
The moment that will almost certainly leave the most lasting impression was a tragic one, when United winger Antonio Valencia got caught in a tangle of legs under a hard but fair challenge from Kirk Broadfoot, leaving Ecuadorian with a badly broken ankle that left all on the field noticeably shaken up.
Gibson was inches away from a heroic winner in the 81st minute when his 25-yard rocket flew barely over the crossbar, but the frustrated hosts were left forced to settle for the point and feeling much worse for the wear.
The goose-egg leaves the two teams knotted at second in Group C on one point apiece, both trailing leaders Valencia who posted a convincing 4-0 win over Bursaspor.
Edu and his fellow Gers teammates have the advantage of facing the Turkish debutants in two weeks at Ibrox, but first will look to continue their perfect Scottish Premier League start when they host Dundee United on Saturday.
Oguchi Onyewu has not been selected as a part of AC Milan's squad for group stage play, and will not participate on Wednesday evening when the Rossoneri host French team AJ Auxerre in Group G play.